Scottish government report has critical feedback for salmon farming industry

Published on
November 27, 2018

The results of a far-reaching enquiry by the Scottish Parliament into salmon farming in Scotland has the industry breathing a sigh of relief.

The investigation, which was overseen by the government-appointed, 11-member Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, made 65 wide-ranging recommendations for improvements across all aspects of the industry, but outlined a path by which the industry can continue to operate and grow in Scotland.

The enquiry was triggered by years of criticism and lobbying primarily from non-governmental organizations, particularly related to health, welfare and environmental concerns. Publication of the enquiry’s results paves the way for industry to adapt its practices to increase its sustainability.

Beginning its work in January 2018, the committee took into account 160 written comments, held six evidence-gathering sessions, made fact-finding visits to fish farms and hatcheries, and studied numerous specialist reports on the state of the industry. 

The committee’s recommendations encompassed everything from improving the siting of fish cages, managing sea lice issues, and ensuring the welfare of cleaner fish, to reducing mortalities and escapes, tightening regulation of medicines and waste management, lessening the use of acoustic deterrent devices for seal management, increasing workforce development and housing, upping consumer education and science funding, and preparing for Brexit. 

The report opens with an acknowledgement of the economic and social value that salmon farming brings to Scotland. The industry provides jobs in rural areas; investment, and economic backing in remote communities; and stimulates economic activity in the wider supply chain; according to the report. In 2016, the Scottish salmon industry contributed GBP 558 million (USD 712 million, EUR 630 million) to the national economy in gross value. 

The report also criticized salmon farming for creating economic, environmental, and social challenges for other businesses that rely on the natural environment. Its first recommendation is that the industry make it a top priority to identify solutions to environmental and fish health challenges.

The committee further recommended that Scotland’s current regulation and enforcement regime be updated to take into account a number of deficiencies before the industry can expand. 

Calls for a moratorium on new salmon farm development were rejected, but the impact of expansion plans on other sectors that share the marine environment need to be recognized and any impacts reduced, the report said. Responsible authorities were tasked with giving due consideration to the needs of other industries in their strategic planning.

Looking at the number of different accreditation schemes, the committee requested a joint effort from the industry and the non-profit sector to make the accreditation landscape less confusing for consumers.

Su Cox, communications and business development director for the Scottish Salmon Company, told SeafoodSource on Tuesday, 27 November her company was still busy reading the report. 

“There is a lot to take in and the devil is in the detail, so we need to ensure that we fully understand any new requirements,” she said. “However, it all adds to the cost of producing salmon.”

Julie Hesketh-Laird, chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO), welcomed the report.

“We agree with the committee that there is no evidence that salmon farming should not continue to grow sustainably,” she said. “The Scottish salmon farming sector is at a critical phase of its development and the committee’s recommendation that regulation be improved to keep pace with potential growth is encouraging. The sector is keen to work with Scottish Parliamentary Committees, the Scottish Government, the regulators and other organizations who have interests, or indeed concerns, about salmon farming.”

Hesketh-Laird explained that as fish health and sound environmental standards are vital for salmon farming, all SSPO members invest significantly in these areas. 

“Our industry already voluntarily reports sea lice levels and is world-leading in publishing survival data on a farm-by-farm basis,” she said. “We intend to continue with all our current work and investment and welcome involvement in any future regulatory discussion to ensure that future changes in farming regulations are robust, inspire confidence in all stakeholders and are practical and workable.”

Ben Hadfield, managing director of Marine Harvest, which has significant operations in Scotland, said that the Scottish salmon industry in general and his business in particular has much to be proud of.

“Our efficient use of resources to grow a healthy food is well established and should be celebrated. But like all farming, we have challenges that need to be addressed, and focussing on reducing negative impacts should remain the top priority for the business and its regulators,” he said. “While some committee recommendations are already being led by Marine Harvest, such as wrasse culture, sea lice reporting, and wild fish sector collaboration, there are new initiatives the company will look forward to collaborating on with key stakeholders.” 

Photo courtesy of Scottish Salmon Producers' Organisation

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